- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

ALBANY, N.Y. Eighteen national retailers have agreed to replace customers' lost, stolen or damaged gift cards, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced yesterday.
The policy change mimics one put in place by home-improvement giant Home Depot Inc. in spring 2002, after two New York residents complained to Mr. Spitzer's office that the Atlanta company refused to replace their lost cards.
Mr. Spitzer's office has received no additional complaints. However, following the settlement with Home Depot, his office began reviewing other retailers' gift-card policies and found they also lacked consumer protections, said Spitzer spokeswoman Christine Pritchard.
Every company Mr. Spitzer contacted agreed to reform its policies on the popular gift cards, which accounted for $38 billion in sales last year.
"Nobody declined," Ms. Pritchard said.
Retailers agreeing to the reforms include Best Buy, Bloomingdale's, Borders, Circuit City, CompUSA, Disney Stores, Eckerd, J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Kohl's, Macy's, Musicland, Nordstrom; Sears, Roebuck and Co.; Sports Authority Inc., Target, Toys R Us Inc. and Waldenbooks.
Mr. Spitzer focused on retailers prominent across New York state but hopes others follow suit, Ms. Pritchard said.
"The action by these companies should set a standard for the entire industry," Mr. Spitzer said.
The retailers promise to deactivate and reissue lost, stolen or damaged gift cards, which many consumers mistakenly assume come with the same protections as credit or debit cards.
Companies have long viewed gift cards, the equivalent of paper gift certificates, the same as cash and therefore untraceable and nonrefundable if lost or stolen.
Under the agreement, customers can get another gift card for the amount remaining on the one being replaced if they can provide valid identification and proof of payment such as sales receipt, canceled check or credit-card statement.
The 18 companies will phase in their policy change, as they print new cards and put up new signs, Ms. Pritchard said.
Web sites for CompUSA and Best Buy yesterday continued to post a disclaimer that gift cards "cannot be replaced if lost or stolen." Officials for the companies did not immediately return phone calls.
In June, Home Depot agreed to pay $45,000 to cover the cost of Mr. Spitzer's investigation of it. Agreements with the other 18 companies involved no money, Ms. Pritchard said.

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